On January 24th Roger Stone, a long time political activist and ally and confidante of Donald Trump was indicted at the urging of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller on 1 count of Obstructing a Congressional Investigation by failing to turn over subpoenaed records and lying about their existence, five counts of False Statements to Congress and one count of Witness Tampering. Stone was arrested by the FBI in a pre-dawn raid, reportedly by 29 FBI agents in SWAT team uniforms in 17 vehicles.
This storm trooper behavior has been typical of Mueller during his career. It is scarier now that he is essentially an unchecked fourth branch of government, accountable to no one. Stone has known for months that charges were coming. Stone’s lawyer had stated he would appear when requested to answer any charges. That he is not a flight risk was demonstrated by the Federal Magistrate’s release of him on a $250,000.00 Signature Bond, essentially Personal Recognizance, which requires no cash or assets to be posted.
Equally absurd is the notion that the tactic was necessary to prevent destruction of evidence. Since he had known this was coming, Stone certainly wouldn’t have had evidence lying around the house. The whole episode is nothing more than an agency of the Federal government abusing its power to intimidate.
Stone has been a Republican political consultant since the days of his hero, Richard Nixon. He is particularly notorious as a “dirty trickster,” something no one officially condones but many campaigns seem to have found useful. Dapper to the point of foppishness, he is colorful, not to say bizarre, in speech and craves public attention, traits that draw him to many journalists and may, along with his unconcern with the truth, ultimately be his undoing.
Stone was a minor player in the “dirty tricks” department of Nixon’s reelection campaign. He was listed by the Senate Watergate Committee as among those who received disbursements from a cash slush fund at the Committee to Reelect the President. He made a donation, purportedly from the Young Socialist Alliance to the campaign of Rep. Pete McCloskey who challenged Nixon in the New Hampshire primary. Stone then sent a copy of the receipt for the donation to the Manchester Union Leader.
The most significant action in Stone’s political career came after Nixon left the scene. In the wake of Watergate-inspired campaign finance laws, Stone and other young conservatives invented a method to circumvent those laws, the Political Action Committee or PAC, a way to collect and spend unlimited amounts of money during a campaign, as long as there is no coordination with the candidate. In the late 1970’s he was a founder of the National Conservative Political Action Committee or NCPAC which was in the vanguard of the conservative resurgence and remains the preeminent such group.
After Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, Stone joined Republican political consultants Charles Black and Paul Manafort (yes, that Paul Manafort) in Black, Manafort & Stone, a lobbying firm designed to cash in on their political contacts in the new administration. The firm was extremely successful, a principal player in “the Swamp” of its day.
In New York City their mutual mentor, the notorious lawyer Roy Cohn, had introduced Stone to the brashly ambitious Donald Trump. Cohn reinforced the style all three men shared – tough talking, pugnacious, publicity-seeking and always counterpunching.
Stone privately and publicly encouraged Trump in his flirtations with running for President over the decades. When Trump finally ran in 2015 Stone was on board as an unpaid advisor.
On July 22, 2016 Wikileaks released tens of thousands of emails which had been hacked from the Democratic National Committee. These are believed to have been stolen and given to Wikileaks by entities connected to the Russian government.
Thereafter Stone reached out to Wikileaks leader, Julian Assange through two intermediaries to attempt to get information about the contents of the stolen emails and the timing of any future planned releases. At least one of the intermediaries dealt with Wikileaks only through Assange’s lawyer (who was, interestingly, Margaret Ratner Kuntsler, the widow of the famed 60’s and 70’s radical lawyer William Kuntsler).
One of the two was Jerome Corsi, identified as “Person 1” in the indictment and as “a political commentator who worked with an online media publication during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.” Corsi is a conservative writer, political commentator and conspiracy theories. In particular, he was was a prominent “Birther.” On July 25 and 31, Stone emailed Corsi, urging him to approach Assange to get information about future email releases. Corsi replied on August 2 that Assange was planning future “very damaging” “dumps.”
The other intermediary was Randy Credico, identified in the indictment as “Person 2,” a New York progressive gadfly who has been a comedian and run very unsuccessfully for political office but had a radio talk show on which Assange appeared on August 25. 2016. At least according to the indictment, not until August 19 did communication begin between Stone and Credico about getting information from Wikileaks about future stolen email releases.
On August 8, 2016 the Trump campaign announced that Stone had been fired. The problem apparently was Stone’s habit of drawing attention to himself rather than the candidate. Stone insisted that he had resigned over campaign strategy differences.
Coincidentally or not, it was on August 8 that Stone first stated at a public gathering that he had communicated with Julian Assange of Wikileaks and learned that there would be more emails released, detrimental to the Clinton Campaign. In four radio and TV interviews during August Stone repeated his assertion, clarifying that his contact with Assange was through an intermediary.
The indictment alleges that “a senior Trump Campaign official [apparently Steve Bannon] was directed(emphasis added) to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information [Wikileaks] had regarding the Clinton Campaign.”
On October 3 Stone texted what the indictment calls “a supporter involved with the Trump Campaign” that he “Spoke to my friend in London last night. The payload is still coming.” Also on October 3, Stone got an email from a reporter with “who had connections to [Bannon]” asking “Assange – what’s he got? Hope it’s good.” Stone replied “It is. I’d tell [Bannon] but he doesn’t call me back.”
On October 4, Assange held a press conference but did not release emails. Shortly after that [Bannon] emailed Stone asking about the status of future email releases. Stone replied that they would be coming.
Stone’s activities appear to have been an effort to ingratiate himself back into the campaign.
On October 7, Wikileaks released emails hacked from John Podesta, the Clinton Campaign Chairman. What the indictment describes as “an associate of the high-ranking Trump Campaign official” then texted to Stone, “well done.”
On September 25, 2017 Stone testified before the House Intelligence Committee.
The charges in the indictment are procedural rather than substantive. As will be seen in the following, more detailed description they allege obstruction and lying in the course of the the House Intelligence Committee investigation, but not any underlying illegal activity by the Trump Campaign, Trump or even Stone himself. Some charges seem specious or thin, while Mueller seems to have Stone cold on a couple of them.
Count 1 of the indictment alleges “Obstruction of a Proceeding” in that Stone failed to turn over and falsely testified that he had no records responsive to the subpoena demanding, among other things “Any documents, records, electronically stored information including e-mail …” relating to the subject of the Committee’s investigation. Specifically he denied he had emails relating to Assange. The indictment alleges that those emails were still stored on his computer.
Count 7 of the indictment alleges “Witness Tampering” by Stone’s alleged attempts to persuade Credico to amend his testimony to conform to Stone’s or at least to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege not to testify.
Counts 2 through 6 of the indictment each allege separate “False Statements” under oath, as follows:
- Stone testified that he did not have emails with third parties about Assange and that he did not have any documents, emails or text messages referring to Assange.
The indictment states that in fact Stone had sent and received numerous emails and text messages concerning Assange and “was still in possession of many of these emails and text messages” at the time of his testimony.
- Stone testified that his August 2016 references in public statements to being in contact with Assange were references to communications with a “single” go-between he identified as Randy Credico.
The indictment states that those August 2016 references were based, on his communications with Corsi, not on his communications with Credico, which occurred later. The indictment says Stone stated he referred “exclusively to a journalist, who STONE described as a ‘go-between, as an intermediary, as a mutual friend’ but “does not reference any statement or suggestion that he had no other go-between. It’s worth noting that other allegations of false statements are supported by specific statements or quotes from Stone’s testimony. This count has no such reference. Stone identified only one intermediary but there is no reported testimony denying the existence of another.
- Stone testified that he did not ask Credico to communicate anything else to Assange and did not ask Credico to do anything on his behalf.
The indictment states that Stone not only made requests for information about the timing of the release of the emails, but also made several specific requests for copies of emails damaging to the Clinton Campaign.
Paragraph 30 of the indictment alleges that “In truth and in fact Stone directed both Corsi and Credico to pass on requests to Assange for documents that he believed would be harmful to the Clinton Campaign.” Stone testified that he asked Credico “to confirm that Tweet of [Assange] of the 21stwas accurate, that they did in fact have … Hillary Clinton emails and that they would release them.” Stone denied he asked Credico to communicate or do anything else or do anything on Stone’s behalf. Stone sent emails and texts to Corsi and Credico requesting they pass on requests to Assange for copies of Clinton emails.
- Stone testified that he did not communicate with his intermediary via text message or email about Assange.
The indictment quotes in detail Stone’s testimony that he communicated with the “intermediary” by telephone only and not by email or text. As noted above Stone communicated with both Corsi and Credico by text and email and was still doing so when he testified. It doesn’t seem possible that this charge can be evaded.
- Stone testified that he never discussed his conversations with Credico with anyone involved in the Trump Campaign.
Putting aside communications with a “supporter involved with” the Trump Campaign, “an associate of a high ranking and a reporter “with connections to” a high ranking Trump Campaign, there appears to be at least one direct email exchange between Stone and Bannon. Given his unhappiness at being able to reach Bannon, it isn’t very likely Stone can claim he forgot the exchange.
What is most striking about the whole episode is that Stone’s troubles arise, not from any underlying illegal activity but his need to appear to be at the center of things and his big mouth. None of this would have happened, if he had shut up.
Stone’s contacts with Wikileaks to obtain information about the stolen emails were legal but unseemly, even sleazy as Bannon, if not Trump, seems to have realized. There was no benefit to the campaign from Stone’s public statements about his contacts with Wikileaks in August of 2016 that prompted this aspect of Mueller’s investigation. It was simply Stone’s need to call attention to himself.
Even at the Court House after his release on Signature Bond, Stone spoke colorfully to the press. He has had a number of radio and television interviews since. No doubt his lawyer wishes he would go home and shut up.
It seems very likely that Stone’s ego will draw him prison time on at least Counts 1, 2, 5 and 6.
There are still, no substantive charges relating to any illegal “collusion” between the Trump Campaign and the Russians. Some FBI higher ups, since documented as politically motivated, began an investigation into that subject based on the Steele Dossier, produced by the Clinton Campaign, in 2016. That investigation was taken over by Special Counsel Mueller nearly two years ago. Mueller has indicted some Russians for fraudulent manipulation of social media during the campaign. He has indicted individuals close to Trump for crimes unrelated to the campaign. He has indicted persons, including Stone, connected to the Trump Campaign for making false statements but not about subjects which were themselves illegal.
After three years it’s time to ask, in the words of the old lady in the Wendy’s commercial, quoted by Walter Mondale to Gary Hart in a 1984 primary debate, “Where’s the beef?”